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    Here Come the Millennial

    This pet-pampering generation presents opportunities for retailers.

    By Kathleen Furore

    Marlie Grau is a pampered 2-year-old. She lives in an upscale apartment in Washington, D.C.?s trendy DuPont Circle, eats natural food and homemade treats, and has more toys than her mom can count.

    ?I could talk about Marlie for days ? she?s a very spoiled girl,? says Alexa Grau, who rescued Marlie ? a beagle/terrier mix ? from a New York City shelter in 2012.

    Grau, 25, is a member of the Millennial generation, a group comprising 18- to 33-year-olds that represents 27 percent of the U.S. adult population. Her ?parenting? approach is in line with the majority of her peers: According to ?The Millennial Pet Owner,? a report from Washington-based market research firm Wakefield Research, Millennial consumers are more than willing to splurge on pet purchases.

    ?The approach Millennials take to pet purchases is very similar to their purchase process for other product categories,? says Nathan Richter, a partner at Wakefield Research. ?For example, they define ?essentials? differently, which results in them buying discretionary products under the guise that they are nondiscretionary.?

    While that might not be prudent for these young peoples? wallets, it?s good news for companies that sell pet products.

    ?It expands the category of essential products,? notes Richter. ?Millennials are highly conscientious consumers. They value product attributes that do not appeal to older consumers. For example, they express a stronger preference for natural and organic materials. This tendency is fed by an expectation that they will have infinite access to product information. They evaluate a product not just by its ingredients or price, but by assessing the broader benefits of the product to them, their health and their lifestyle.?

    Millennials? Preferences

    Young adult consumers feel strongly about the kind and quality of products they purchase for their pets.

    When it comes to food, ?natural? products made without artificial flavors or preservatives, as well as products with extra grains, are important. According to the Wakefield report, 86 percent of Millennials feel ?natural? food is essential (compared with 74 percent of Baby Boomers), and 77 percent feel extra grains are essential (versus 53 percent of Boomers).

    Grau is part of that 86 percent. ?Marlie eats Nature?s Variety, and she eats the kibble mixed with the canned wet food and topped with a small scoop of frozen bites,? she says. ?I usually look for foods and treats that are natural, chemical-free and hopefully American-made.?

    Expectations for pet supplies are equally lofty: 78 percent of Millennials expect supplies to be BPA-free (versus 56 percent of Boomers); 76 percent expect pet supplies to be made with natural or organic materials (compared with 52 percent of Boomers); and 75 percent want hypoallergenic shampoo for their pets (a priority for only 40 percent of the Boomer generation), the Wakefield report found.

    Traveling accommodations are important, too. Wakefield reports that 61 percent of Millennials think it?s important to have a ?portable? pet (compared with just 31 percent of Boomers). Marlie, for example, has traveled by car, train and plane. When she flies, it?s in coach class in an under-seat carrier.

    Why it Matters

    Understanding Millennials? preferences as pet owners can help retailers choose the products most likely to appeal to a generation of shoppers willing to splurge on the furry, four-legged members of their families. With the right pet food aisle inventory, those shoppers are more likely to buy pet food and supplies in-store instead of heading to the nearest specialty pet shop.

    ?Time and again, we see companies make critical mistakes when marketing to Millennials, because building relationships with them takes a great deal of resources and effort,? Richter says. However, investing resources now can pay off down the road.

    ?It?s projected that Millennials? spending power is going to exceed close to $3.4 trillion in the next four years. ? At the same time, the purchasing power of Boomers, who represent the largest consumer segment for many product categories, is diminishing,? Richter adds. ?It only follows that grocery retailers should think about developing relationships with Millennials today, before they are spending their money with a competitor tomorrow.?

    Pumping up the inventory of pet products that appeal to these young, pet-pampering consumers is a good place to start.

    ?Grocery retailers should think about developing relationships with Millennials today, before they are spending their money with a competitor tomorrow.?
    ?Nathan Richter, Wakefield Research

    By Kathleen Furore
    • About Kathleen Furore

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